I admit it, I used to think that shared values exercises were just so much kumbaya. But, the longer my career, the more I understand them to be critical to any organization’s success. I think the reason so many of us undervalue them is that we've been fortunate enough to work in organizations that worked well and there was a strong sense of shared values. When you have them, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like without them.
But I've seen enough situations where they were missing to have lost any doubt. As a consultant, I benefited from situations where my competitors had fumbled the shared culture/values. In one particular instance, the client was frustrated with our competitor, the incumbent in the account, and put phase two of what would have been their project up for bid. We capitalized on the opening and picked up a major automotive account as a result.
Just recently, a client experienced the defection of a key executive to a competitor. It’s not going to work out very well for the defector or the competitor. The timing was messy and caused some disruption. After the departure it was clear that the rest of the leadership team knew that he didn't fit in. It's likely that the organization has been suffering for some time with the wrong player in the right seat. We’re putting a set of shared values in place now to aid in hiring (and firing) decisions. I think if these had been in place last year, there’s a very real possibility that this transition could have happened earlier and in a more controlled fashion. Certainly it would have been better for the organization as they could have controlled the timing. But it could even have gone well for the defector, he would have had the chance to determine his own direction.